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Badgers play to win football games, not beauty contests


ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien completed his first 13 passes Saturday against Michigan. Early in the third quarter he was having a 14-for-15 day for 201 yards. It was pretty, but here's the thing. Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema doesn't believe in pretty. In fact, he sneers at pretty. Pretty is for other guys. Pretty is for Michigan.

And Bielema sneers at Michigan.

So early in the third quarter Bielema got on the radio and told offensive coordinator Paul Chryst: "Hey -- they can't stop your running game."

This play's a beauty: J.J. Watt grabs his own tip of a Michigan pass to make the interception. (Getty Images)  
This play's a beauty: J.J. Watt grabs his own tip of a Michigan pass to make the interception. (Getty Images)  
Wisconsin didn't throw it again. Thirty-one more snaps. Thirty-one more rushes. And it worked. The No. 6 Badgers won going away 48-28 to remain in a tie atop the Big Ten standings with one regular-season game to go.

Reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year John Clay missed his second game because of a sore knee, but his backup, Montee Ball, ran for 173 yards and four touchdowns. And his backup, James White, ran for 181 yards and two touchdowns.

"That doesn't happen by chance," Bielema said. "It's drilled into [the whole team] 365 days a year. It's a mindset. We plan it that way. We set it up that way."

And they win that way. Ugly? Don't say that. Wisconsin doesn't win ugly. But Bielema would happily tell you that Wisconsin doesn't win pretty.

"What we do isn't pretty," Bielema said. "When we recruit, we have to find guys who love football. They enjoy the challenge of working. Lots of places, the emphasis is on being pretty."

At a place like Michigan, for example.

Bielema never came out and said that, but the implication was clear. Michigan runs the spread offense, so keep that in mind when you read the following quote from Bielema:

"We're not the spread offense, so it's not sexy," he said after the game. "We're not on the [top] of everybody's wish list. But I tell you what -- 48 points is fun."

Later, Bielema was asked about Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, who had another Herculean day (239 yards and two touchdowns passing, 121 yards and two touchdowns rushing) to set the NCAA record for rushing yards in a season by a quarterback (1,538) while becoming the first player in NCAA history to both run and pass for 1,500 yards in the same season.

Here's what Bielema said when he was asked about another impressive display of toughness by the small, fast Michigan quarterback.

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"He's a good player. [He's] good for them," Bielema said. "We'd never recruit to that. Not our bag."

Wisconsin's bag isn't tiny, speedy guys. Wisconsin goes for beef-eaters. Earth-shakers. The Badgers' offensive line averages 6-foot-5½, 320 pounds. Ball, the running back, is 5-11, 236. Clay is 6-1, 255. The quarterback, Tolzien, scrambled into the clear on two occasions, and both times lowered his head when he encountered a defender. One time, on the sideline, he avoided stepping out of bounds just to hit a Michigan linebacker. The other time, he smashed into a Michigan defender in the middle of the field and fumbled.

"We have to work on the quarterback slide," Bielema said, smiling.

Don't bother. This is Wisconsin football, and Wisconsin football doesn't do the quarterback slide. Wisconsin football is a mangling machine on all sides of the ball. One Michigan kickoff return ended with a fumble when Jeremy Gallon was hit so hard he didn't return. On offense, Wisconsin smashed Michigan for 357 of its 558 total yards on the ground. The defense was led by 6-6, 292-pound end J.J. Watt, who was athletic enough to bat a Robinson pass into the air and run it down for the interception -- and bruising enough to knock out Michigan running back Vincent Smith with a knee to the helmet. After that play Smith rose slowly, ran drunkenly to midfield, then collapsed.

And the coaching staff is just as tough. Bielema is the guy who called for a two-point conversion earlier this season against Minnesota when the Badgers led 41-16 midway through the fourth quarter. While he said he was simply following the PAT conversion chart that so many coaches use, I suspect Bielema was getting even with Minnesota for something one of its players or coaches had done, real or imagined, to tick him off.

He's a brutal guy, Bret Bielema. Make no mistake -- I like it. And I don't think he's a poor sportsman, either. That 70-3 blowout earlier this season of Austin Peay? The Badgers had 49 points at halftime, then scored 14 points in the third quarter and seven in the fourth. That's not running up the score; that's calling off the dogs. And the 83-20 rout of Indiana last week? Bielema pulled his starting quarterback, Tolzien, in the third quarter. Nothing to see there, folks.

But get a load of this: After the game Saturday, Bielema said his offensive line -- which grinds opposing defenses into dust by pulling its guards and ramming them into linebackers downfield -- was prevented from pulling by Michigan. He used the word "tactics," which is coaching code for "holding," to describe what Michigan's defensive line was doing.

"But we rectified the situation," Bielema said.

When asked how, Bielema recalled a chop-block penalty that went against his team -- and took a touchdown off the scoreboard -- in the second quarter. Wisconsin lost seven points but delivered a message.

The "tactics" by Michigan stopped.

This is a brutal team, Wisconsin.

Gregg Doyel is a columnist for He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.

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